HomeFinanceInvestmentCustomers shut out as bank branches close

Customers shut out as bank branches close

The needs of some bank customers appear to be being neglected as the big banks shut up shop and move more of their business online.

Banks are considered an essential service during COVID lockdowns, but the ‘Big Four’ are closing hundreds of branches across the nation, leaving customers high and dry and blaming the pandemic.

ANZ shut nearly two branches a week in 2020, closing in 91 locations, and will be closing a further 18 branches this year, the Herald Sun reports, despite making $3.76 billion in full-year profits.

ANZ is well ahead of the pack in closures, while the Commonwealth Bank has closed 19 banks, Westpac 10 branches, and NAB nine last year. Many other lenders have also cut their opening hours, again blaming the pandemic.

Often, those customers unwilling or unable to do their banking online may also have limited transport or mobility to make the trip farther afield to a bigger shopping centre or even, as is the case with many country banks, to another town.

Finance Sector Union national secretary Julia Angrisano says banks are putting their profits ahead of providing services to customers.

“Banks are still blaming customers for branch closures, claiming falsely that the public doesn’t value branches and prefer to complete their financial transactions online,” she told the Herald Sun.

“It is the banks which prefer to force customers online because they can reduce staff numbers, save money on wages and rents and increase profits.”

Despite the closures, a survey by comparison company Mozo reveals that widespread loyalty to the big four banks persists. Eighty per cent of those surveyed keep their cash with NAB, Commonwealth, ANZ or Westpac.

Fewer than 4 per cent of Aussies put their money with ING, even though it is the bank with the top savings rate of 1.35 per cent.

Familiarity is a key factor, with Mozo reporting that 44 per cent of those surveyed choose to keep their savings with the Big Four because “they always have”.

In other banking news, Reserve Bank governor Phillip Lowe says it is in the “national interest” to ditch the cheque.

The number of personal cheques written in Australia has dropped by 85 per cent in the past decade. But Swinburne University adjunct professor Steve Worthington, who specialises in financial services, says ditching cheques will be unpopular.

“The backlash would be far greater than the benefit,” he told 3AW. “Particularly people of an older age group still use cheques, and even people in rural communities . . . because there’s less and less ATMs there and less bank branches.

“I think that it would be a mistake to ban it outright because it would upset a lot of people.”

Meanwhile, AMP, ANZ, CBA, Macquarie, NAB and Westpac between them have returned $1.2 billion to customers who suffered loss or detriment due to fees for no service misconduct or non-compliant advice.

Major reviews into bank misconduct led to the compensation, with NAB topping the list, returning $437.5 million to about 636,000 customers.

Has your local branch shut? Do you feel comfortable banking online? Will the end of cheques have any affect on you?

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